Low budget birds in flight - how to improve keeper rate?

JanW

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Hello,

Its been a long time since my last post but I need some advice.
I'm trying to capture some birds in the air with my gx800 and Panasonic 100-300 mk1.
Using the screen for this is impossile so I made a bracket for a dot sight and use that.
Keeping the bird within the frame is not too difficult now but I get quite a few frames that are slightly out of focus.
Here is an example which is still 'acceptable', I have deleted the ones that were not this close.
It is an approx 50% crop, these were just to practice.
1070186~2.jpg
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258mm, 1/1000, f/8 iso 200
Camera was set to shutter priority, s-af, af mode custom multi with 5 area's around the center.
Edit: forgot to add that release priority is set to 'focus'.

How can I improve this? I think it is the AF, all static photo's are sharp.
If it is the camera/lens, how can I improve my keeper rate without breaking the bank?
Or should it be possible and do I need to go out and practice more?

This is what I want to do. Doesn't have to be spectacular but I like this one a lot.
1070194~2.jpg
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Jan
 
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A 50% crop on a bird flying far away is asking a lot for a lens and camera.

That being said, it is possible to get some crisper shots, I think.

That camera doesn't have IBIS, correct? So you are relying on lens IS. That should be good for these FL.

For the 100-300, I tend to keep it at or below 286mm. As you approach 300mm it tends to be softer in all but absolute perfect light. Your examples are not at 300mm, so that's good, I think.

Why are you at f8/9? You should be trying to get as much light into the lens as possible. This will help keep the SS high. There should be plenty of DOF at or below f/7. I usually go for the fastest at the FL I am using. I would also not hesitate to bump ISO to 400 just to keep that SS as high as possible. You are moving, your subject is moving. You really need to freeze the frame.

But really technique is the biggest hurdle in these shots. It is also the most difficult to account for. You need to be stable, your camera needs to be stable. Are you using a tripod or monopod? If hand-held, are you keeping your elbows in, braced on your torso? Are you soft with your shutter finger? Do you have a firm grip on the lens? Do you practice as much as possible?
 

John M Flores

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I'd recommend slower birds.

I'm here all week. Tip your waiter. Try the sirloin.

Seriously, @TNcasual has some good pointers. And with the birds that distant, I'd try a single point AF and once you've got the exposure set for the situation, set the camera to M with those settings under the assumption that giving the camera less to calculate and set makes it just a smidge more responsive.
 
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A 50% crop on a bird flying far away is asking a lot for a lens and camera.

That being said, it is possible to get some crisper shots, I think.

That camera doesn't have IBIS, correct? So you are relying on lens IS. That should be good for these FL.

For the 100-300, I tend to keep it at or below 286mm. As you approach 300mm it tends to be softer in all but absolute perfect light. Your examples are not at 300mm, so that's good, I think.

Why are you at f8/9? You should be trying to get as much light into the lens as possible. This will help keep the SS high. There should be plenty of DOF at or below f/7. I usually go for the fastest at the FL I am using. I would also not hesitate to bump ISO to 400 just to keep that SS as high as possible. You are moving, your subject is moving. You really need to freeze the frame.

But really technique is the biggest hurdle in these shots. It is also the most difficult to account for. You need to be stable, your camera needs to be stable. Are you using a tripod or monopod? If hand-held, are you keeping your elbows in, braced on your torso? Are you soft with your shutter finger? Do you have a firm grip on the lens? Do you practice as much as possible?

Agreed. I'd go with 1/1250 at least. Faster if the light allows it.

I've found that using a smaller aperture isn't that beneficial for DOF. It's more a matter of the AF zeroing in. I have an Olympus that I can use Cluster AF with C-AF, which helps to get flying birds into focus better. My EM1X is better with Bird AF tracking, but that's beyond the OP's intent. I've shot up to 400 mm using the viewfinder, but you're right. It's not easy to get the subject into the viewfinder, much less track it. I have used a red-dot sight, but find that has its own quirks that make it far from foolproof. I find that I have to activate my rear screen and turn on the autofocus beep so I can hear when the AF locks on and glance at the rear screen to see if it focused where I want. And/or trust to luck and the camera. I usually get more hits using the EVF than the red-dot sight, although my friend has been very successful with the red dot. He has extensive practice with it, which is key to making that work.

I think the Olympus with Hybrid AF has an advantage here. I dunno what mode on your Panasonic could come close to the Cluster AF available on the Olympus. Using S-AF may be good for the first shot in a sequence, but keeping that focusing point on the bird and refocusing for subsequent shots is far from easy. Did you try C-AF to see if it would work better?

Yeah, the 100-300 isn't that great at 300, but getting the bird in focus is what makes it work. Improving technique is necessary, but only gained from experimentation and experience. Best of luck!

If the OP is having trouble handholding the 100-300, he might consider using a monopod and the Wimberley Mono-Gimbal. I got one and it definitely helps with long telephotos, especially those lenses with a rotating tripod foot. He might have to use an L-bracket on his camera to use the Mono-Gimbal.
 
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Hello,

Its been a long time since my last post but I need some advice.
I'm trying to capture some birds in the air with my gx800 and Panasonic 100-300 mk1.
Using the screen for this is impossile so I made a bracket for a dot sight and use that.
Keeping the bird within the frame is not too difficult now but I get quite a few frames that are slightly out of focus.
Here is an example which is still 'acceptable', I have deleted the ones that were not this close.
It is an approx 50% crop, these were just to practice.

258mm, 1/1000, f/8 iso 200
Camera was set to shutter priority, s-af, af mode custom multi with 5 area's around the center.
Edit: forgot to add that release priority is set to 'focus'.

How can I improve this? I think it is the AF, all static photo's are sharp.
If it is the camera/lens, how can I improve my keeper rate without breaking the bank?
Or should it be possible and do I need to go out and practice more?

This is what I want to do. Doesn't have to be spectacular but I like this one a lot.
View attachment 893025

Jan

The first shot was a bit blurry, but the second shot looked pretty good. I think that's probably as good as you can expect. The first shot could have been blurry because of the lens or the AF not being quite on target. Actually, it was pretty close to being on focus. Cropping will emphasize any lens softness. I too have to throw out a lot of shots. Not always because they're OOF, but also poor composition, awkward action, or lighting.

Oh yeah, the red-dot sight needs to be carefully calibrated for the point at which your subjects are likely to be, or due to parallax error, they won't be anywhere near your focus points when you have the dot on them, especially at long focal lengths. Also, I found that there's some "latitude" in the way you view the red dot that will make it veer off from where your lens is aiming. That is, the position of my eye in relation to the red dot. My sight doesn't have an indexing point, so there is some "sloppiness" where the red dot actually ends up. Maybe it's me not using the sight right or not enough practice. Hence, I tend to depend on my viewfinder more. Plus, I can sorta tell if they're in focus or not before I release the shutter if I use the VF. With the red dot sight, I have to trust my camera to do the job. Good luck!
 
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Mountain_Man_79

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I think the answer is as simple as going from s-af to c-af, and try again. If you’re shooting multiple bursts, no doubt in s-af will a part of the series start becoming out of focus as the bird is flying closer or further away from you.
 

JanW

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Thanks for all the suggestions!
First I'll answer some of your questions.
The camera used f8 because shutter priority was set at 1/1000 and iso was already at 200 (auto iso).

I shoot handheld and support the lens firmly on my left hand. Of course I think that I hold it stable but maybe I'm just waving it around?
I also think I don't hit the shutter button very hard but I'll go out again very soon and check it.

I use s-af because it used to be the advice on older cd af bodies. And since the GX800 is a low end cd af body s-af seems logical.
If I remember it correctly c-af is also very slow.

And Holoholo55, the second one is what I want to achieve.

What I'll take with me is:
- practice!! (I don't go out often enough)
- 1/1000 may not be fast enough
- switch on AF beep (first thing I turn off on a new camera :))
- use manual mode
- try c-af

Thanks again!
 

Mountain_Man_79

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Dont be afraid of higher ISOs, and personally, I like shooting BIF at 1/1250th, so you’re not far off. I think higher ISO and a wider aperture will help with the speed in which the camera focuses.
Good luck!
 

ac12

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1/1000 sec is definitely NOT fast enough.
A 4/3 sensor with a 300mm lens, so minimum shutter speed would be 1/600 sec, on a STATIONARY subject.
On a moving subject like a bird, I would more than double that. To about 1/2000 sec.

I would rather have high ISO noise than a blurry subject from using a shutter speed that was not fast enough.
I don't know your camera, but I have no problem cranking my ISO up to 3200 and 6400.

Hand holding a LONG 12x lens is HARD.
If there is a breeze, that is strong enough to move you, it is even HARDER.
When I shoot with my 75-300 at max FL, I always look for something SOLID to brace myself against.
 

PeeBee

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Some good tips above which will hopefully help the OP. I owned the 100-300 for around 4 years and whilst it was very good for static subjects, I was never able to master it for BIF. At the time, I also had a DSLR, and that was my go-to for anything airborne, so maybe I just didn't have motivation to persist with the 100-300, but the times I did try was an exercise in frustration. When I got the P45-150 in a promotional deal with my GX80, I was amazed how much easier it was to capture BIF, and that 150mm was often enough reach. It's also a lot easier to handle.

Now that I have the EM1.2, I still find that 40-150 range gives me the best af performance for BIF. When I add the MC-20 to the 40-150 Pro, BIF becomes significantly more difficult and my keeper rate plummets.
 

John King

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@JanW Firstly, not bad at all for handheld, specially using such a light body.

Secondly, were you using electronic shutter? This helps me with my 75-300 MkII at 300mm.

Thirdly, I wrote some thoughts that might help here:

https://www.mu-43.com/threads/keeper-rate.107113/page-3#post-1480450

Fourthly, some very good advice already from all the other respondents.
 

Stanga

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I got rid of my 100-300mm years ago because I found it unwieldy and a bit of a pain in the neck to zoom quick enough to get enough of a bird in flight in the frame that wouldn't require cropping. I now prefer to use the P45-175mm with an Olympus A-200 teleconverter. It's far lighter and quicker.
 

BrentC

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S-AF is a huge issue. Impossible to track a bird in focus. You would need to focus and snap picture almost instantaneously, you can't try to "hold" focus and pan with bird.
If you are going to use s-af you will need to pan with the bird (panning speed very important to get a great in focus shot) and then focus and snap right away. If you don't, and have too much time between focus and snap then more than likely it will be out of focus or not sharply in focus.
I am not sure if your lens has a focus ring, but if it does, manual focus might be better to use as you can focus as your panning.
C-AF is is what is really needed for bif. Not that you can't with S-AF but it does make it that more difficult.
 

PhotoCal

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Learn about birds.
Knowing about your subject always helps your photography.

One person jokingly suggested shooting slower birds. That can help. Also, the weather and lighting conditions help. It depends on what shots you want.

Shooting larger birds is generally easier because they are bigger and slower, both of which will help you and your gear.

You may want to eventually focus on specific species or habitats as your skills improve and you seek more challenging subjects.

Also, understanding bird behavior will help you get closer to some birds and generally improve your fieldcraft.

Patience helps.

Last weekend I was at a spot with a friend and there were some unusual species all around but they were not in good positions to photograph. After (very) slowly walking through the area one of the birds landed on the path in front of us and started walking towards us. It got so close I had the change my focus limiter setting!
Another bird flew into a nearby tree, then an open-area patch of plants that was about 10' away (and in better lighting).
 
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JanW

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S-AF is not too difficult. I simply fully depress the shutter and let focus priority decide when the image is captured.
But this is also part of my concern; does it really wait for focus confirmation or is it perhaps less critical?
MF is out of the question working handheld on a camera without viewfinder. MF ring on the 100-300 is not very smooth so that will only make it more difficult.

About PhotoCal's remark:
I try to focus on the common tern. When looking for prey they fly along the waterways and always in the same direction (against the wind).
It is five minutes from my home so I hope I can go out soon and take all the advice with me.
 

Stanga

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What about practicing to use the Back Button focusing method? Then if you set the shutter to the half way depress option in the Spanner menu, you'll gain some extra reaction time.
Try to find a local lake by you where birds hang out. Have a look at a local park. Many of them have a lake with birds at certain time of the year. It is a good place to practice your skills such as timing etc.
 

PhotoCal

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While the OP is certainly free to try back button focusing, it's not for everyone.
I've tried it a few times over the years, with different cameras. It didn't provide any noticeable benefit to me.
 

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